Monday, April 21, 2014

What Did A-Day Tell Us About the Offense

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In case you didn't read my post from a month back, leading into spring practice, go take a gander.
What Will A-Day Tell Us About the Offense

The Development of Cameron Artis-Payne
The number one topic I discussed was centered around the development of Cameron Artis-Payne. Would he be the successor to Mason? As we all know, the run game wasn't exactly showcased. But CAP did manage to churn out 97 yards on 12 carries including a nifty breakaway run that showed some serious moves AND speed. He punched in a nice run on the Tiger's first score of the day as well. I know you have all seen it on ESPN, but he runs VERY similar to Ben Tate. It's ironic that the two shared the same number. They even look alike, if you asked me. Of course, I will pat myself on the back for saying that he looked like Tate in running form, months ago. But, the lack of dedication to run plays in the game limited our view into who will become the feature back. Neither he nor Grant really set themselves apart, though Grant had a monster game in his own right. There simply weren't enough touches....less than 20 between them, though they accounted for multiple TDs and over 200 yards between them. I still think he will be the every down back. Dyer was able to come in and start as a freshman, it's true. But he didn't have the competition top fend off, nor did he have to develop into a pass blocker. He had both Fannin and Smith to do that for him in 2010. Roc Thomas and Pettway won't have this luxury. Not only will they have to prove themselves superior in running the ball, but able to pick up pass blocking, and manage to do it in fall camp. I don't see it, 5 stars or not.

The Development of Receivers
Personally, I think we all saw exactly what we needed to see. One of my biggest questions on seeing this offense become an elite and balanced attack revolved around what we would get in the slot receiver...if we would get one at all. I said in the previous post that the slot would define this offense. Would it be 70/30 run? Or could they find a guy who could be a dagger in the middle of the field? We have 3 candidates: Bray, Louis, and Reed. Reed moved to defense. So that made that question a little shorter. Specifically, would Bray step up and become the guy we needed him...and recruited be. Though it's true that the Auburn run game was so powerful that the passing game was an afterthought, the coaching staff tried to give Bray his chances to use a great blend of size and speed in the open field to hurt defenses in front of the best running game in the nation and the nations top vertical threat in Coates. We saw it a few times last year...taking passes behind the line for first downs, for example. But more often that not, we saw some drops and we saw him getting held up in the backfield. I secretly found myself asking what it would be like if we had two dominate vertical receivers that pulled the secondaries attention down field while the front seven tried to deal with a potent run game. Could Bray turn into a good route running and sticky hands slot man? I went so far as to say this was the most important thing to see in A-Day. Would these guys get open, and if they did, would they drop the ball? Saturday showed me what I wanted to see. Bray turned in a solid day with 2 TDs on slick route running. Most importantly, he didn't drop any balls. Louis, however, showcased those hands again and dropped one easy pass and gave little effort on another that should have put him in the endzone. If Bray can keep up the production that we saw on Saturday, this team will steam roll people. I would venture a guess that this will be Auburn's most prolific offense. Ever.

The Emergence of D'haquille Williams and the Effect on Sammy Coates
Even though Williams had never stepped foot on the field as a Tiger, we were all expecting BIG things. I have really tempered my expectations of the "next big thing". I was impressed with Duke. Really impressed. Though it was easy to be happy after seeing him abuse his fellow teammates in the secondary on a fade catch, it was the rest of the game I was interested to see. How would he do in space? Would he have a connection with Marshall? Lastly, what would Coates do under that type of pressure? The answer is one I am very excited to report. Williams was all over the field once the coaching staff made him full time first team. He was all over the field at that point. One play in particular stands out: Marshall scrambled out of the pocket and away from most of his receivers. He found Williams streaking in a dig route. Not only was the pass excellent, but the over all timing and skill that Williams showcased to get the ball and make a move up field. It was obvious from that moment on that Marshall and Williams already have a connection. 

Then there are the intangibles. After William's TD, he showed a love and energy for the crowd, who loved him right back. He was in the endzone. He was in the stands. The crowd loved it. 

The other intangible he brings is the pressure on Coates to become a more complete player. I believe he has done just that. Coates was able to do his thing...finding the long ball....but he was also a threat in the intermediate passing game, where he has been uncomfortable in the past. The emergence of Williams will strengthen his resolve to be more than a deep threat. He will have to. 

How Little Will We See Marshall

We saw enough, which was more than I thought we would see. Marshall played much of the first half, though he was done by halfway through the second quarter, giving up snaps to Johnson. The good news is, we all saw what we needed to see. Though he didn't hit the first couple of passes JUST right, the media has done a good job portraying these passes as misfires. Let's not forget that both were caught, albeit out of bounds, but were 2 feet from being home-runs from the first snap of the game. The 20MPH wind did him zero good. To me, Marshall looked fantastic. He was composed. He hit the checkdowns. He made big time throws. Johnson, however, clearly looked like he knew he was a #2. For the first half, he looked a little too relaxed. He had no drive or urgency. I can't say I blame the kid. In the 2nd half, however, he looked much better. 

How Will the Line Replace Greg Robinson

With more talent, it would seem. The line isn't a finished product, but it pushed the 2nd team defense all over the field, leading to 7 straight scores.